Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Sophomore and former Debate-Club geek Frankie is tired of being overlooked and underestimated at her posh boarding school. Freshman year her problems were an older and more popular sister, a cheating boyfriend, and an unmemorable face. Now the issue is how very noticeable she became over the summer, growing up and out in all the right places. Almost immediately she snags a popular boyfriend, but her age and her gender conspire to keep her seeming innocuous. Frankie knows she should demand better treatment from her gorgeous, entitled, but still generally nice, boyfriend Matthew. But she doesn’t want to rock the boat because of how much she looks up to him and his golden-boy friends. When she discovers they all belong to the same secret society as her father, she is jealous not because of any power or influence they wield but because of the bonds they are forming that will help them throughout their lives. She knows that while she might be allowed to eat lunch with them, she will never fundamentally be one of them. Determined to earn their respect, she shadows Matthew and learns the secrets of the group. Seizing an opportunity to control their behavior without their realization, she begins orchestrating large-scale pranks meant as commentary on the role of privilege and control in all of their lives. Though sadly few students seem to understand the significance of the pranks, least of all the boys carrying them out.

Lockhart has always been one of my favorite YA authors and all of the reviews and mentions I’ve seen of this book have raved about it. I didn’t find it quite as compelling. It’s ideas, and they were Big Ideas, often overwhelmed the story and characters. Frankie is a type of feminist I am glad exists, one I would never want to be, but would probably enjoy arguing with at a dinner party. She is so thoroughly steeped in the norms of the patriarchal power structure that she thinks the only way to succeed is to be a better boy than the boys. And yes, “patriarchy” is a word used often in this book. Frankie also loves Foucoult’s Discipline and Punish which inspires in her the idea of fighting against the panopticon. With all the Big Ideas in the book, it was easy to get thrown off when I disagreed with the author/narrator’s point of view, though I probably agreed twice as often as I didn’t. Frankie is tired of feeling powerless and only feels like she isn’t when she gains the upper hand over the powerful men around her. Which she finally feels she has done by the end of the book when a friend and adversary admits he no longer likes her, but respects her. An interesting but flawed book for intelligent and socially conscious teens.

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8 responses to “Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

  1. What is with all these secret society books? I guess it is a hop & skip from “high society” really…

  2. I’m so curious about what seems like this glut of secret society YA books. Did they exist ten years prior or is this a fairly new thing? Also, I want to ask you about a YA lit-related question at one point for a creative nonfiction piece I want to write. Vague, I know, but I need to do more research first. Note to self. (Meggy)

  3. @Mordicai: I think feeling generally powerless, everything can often feel like a secret society when you’re a teenager? It is weird to read two books so close together that are about not just secret societies and outsiders trying to infiltrate them, but about women trying to become members.

  4. How come youse guys get icons?

  5. @ihatedanger: I’d love to help; I think you have my email.

    As a trend in YA it might be growing partly because YA novels are starting to focus more on college and not just high school. “Disreputable History” doesn’t fit that, because it is high school. But there’s a lot being written not just about secret societies but sororities, also.

  6. Does she actually call it the panopticon?

  7. @peter: Yes, there is a chapter titled, “The Panopticon” that describes the idea. And then it comes up frequently throughout the rest of the book, refusing to give into it is a major theme.

  8. Pingback: Review: Under the Rose « Biblioteca Trémula

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